Of recipes, collectors, compilers and contributors

By Karin Zimmermann

In my recent First Monday Library Chat interview, I described the wonderful collections within the Bibliotheca Palatina at the Heidelberg University Library. As you might recall, one third of the German manuscripts within the Bibliotheca Palatina are recipe books. In fact, many of the Electors Palatine – the rulers of the Palatinate – were especially interested in medical prescriptions. They were eager to get information wherever they could and so they even collected single recipes. This kind of medical ‘small texts’ are revealing of social networks and the relationships which existed between the compilers and collectors. With a few exceptions the single recipes were handed down anonymously and so we know almost nothing about the authors of these small texts. However, in the larger collections, the names of the contributors are often mentioned either in the title of a whole manuscript or in the heading of a recipe.

The cited recipe contributors consist of not only professional physicians and surgeons but also of a large group of ‘layman or amateur doctors’. Some of the Electors Palatine were particularly known as collectors and compilers of medical literature. For example, over his life time, Louis V (reigned: 1508-1544) compiled and wrote in his own hand, a ‘Book of Medicine’ which spans 13 volumes (c. 3200 leaves of parchment) (Cod. Pal. germ. 244, 261-272)

Fig.1_HUL_Pal.germ.261.f.40r Fig. 1: Recipes from one of the volumes of Louis V ‘Book of Medicine’ for the medical and magic use of carrots.

In order to save space, Louis V developed a system of scribal abbreviation. Often, a single recipe was supplied by various persons to him, that means up to ten people or even more gave him the same recipe. The mentioned ‘layman doctors’ are mostly members of the court, like a valet, a court organist, a scribe at the chancellery, a secretary or a bailiff. The example (Fig. 2) shows you the following abbreviations (you find the real name in parenthesis): P (Elector Palatine), C bar (Christoffel Federlein, barber of Louis), Hensell (Hensel von Schifferstadt, official), Jilge (Walter Gilg, barber), Cal (Wilhelm Kal, a court physician), Hurlewegin (Regina Hurleweg, a female physician), Has (Heinrich Has, court counsellor), Hanaw (Count Philipp III or IV of Hanau-Lichtenberg).

Fig.2_HUL_Pal.germ.262.f.152vFig. 2: A recipe against lice (Fur die leus) with the abbreviated names of eight contributors.

One of Louis V’s successors, Elector Palatine Louis VI (reigned: 1576–1583), was also an enthusiastic collector and compiler of recipes and medical texts. The Bibliotheca Palatina includes around 70 medical manuscripts connected to Louis VI. While many of the manuscripts were created for Louis VI by scribes, some of them include entries written in his own hand. Louis VI often rearranged the same recipes into different groups depending on what kind of collection he wanted to create. So we find collections where the recipes are ordered by indication, by different kinds of confection or even by the time when the main ingredient of the recipe can be harvested or the month when the medication should be used.

Fig.3_HUL_Pal.germ.192.f.2rFig. 3: The ‘Kunst-Buch’ (Book of arts) of Louis VI, his most elaborate collection, written down on more than 300 folios of parchment it contains more than 2.100 recipes and prescriptions.

When we begin to look at the kinds of diseases treated, we find that they reflect contemporary life at court. The eating habits, the high consumption particularly of wine and meat was not exactly conducive to health. So it is no surprise that there are many prescriptions for gout. Consequences of malnutrition and sexual debauchery can certainly to be seen in the recipes for haemorrhoids and genital warts. Much space is given to the field of gynaecology with recipes for the elimination of menstrual disorders, on obstetrics, or to regain lost fertility (for both men and women). Veterinary medicine is also well represented, though mainly in the area of ‘Roßarzneien’ (horse medicine). A phenomenon which may be explained by the preference for keeping horses at the court. Between the medical recipes there are often interspersed some cosmetic recipes or recipes for ‘beauty treatment’ like dying hair or brightening teeth. You can also learn something about disinfestations of fleas, lice, mice and so on; how to dye clothes and how to remove stains and other household recipes. In these cases the term ‘recipe’ is not exclusively based on the medical use. We might conclude by mentioning the cookbooks in the collection. It is interesting to note that the cooking recipes and the medical recipes are not often mixed together. Finally, of course, there is no lack of ‘varia et curiosa’. There are numerous magic and fun recipes, which are present in surprisingly large numbers and usually quite abruptly next to ‘normal’ medical recipes. The variation goes from love-spells to magic that should cause severe damage. Perhaps an indication of changing beliefs, it seems many contemporaries were suspicious of these practices and we often find notes like “who knows if that is useful” or in the margin.

Fig.4_HUL_Pal.germ.222.f.51rFig. 4: One of the readers made a note to a treatise with verveine (Verbena officinalis): “Zauberej so vorr gott ein greuell” (“Beware, that’s magic and an atrocity to god”).

If you want to explore the collection of medical manuscripts at HUL you are welcome. You can easily browse the codices online. As of late you can leave qualified annotations to the digitized manuscripts or folios. You only have to register (cf. Fig. 5). If you have any questions, feel free to contact me @ Zimmermann@ub.uni-heidelberg.de.

First Monday Library Chat: Heidelberg University Library

Welcome back to the First Monday Library Chat! Today we travel to Germany with Elaine Leong and feature library of the oldest German university – The Heidelberg University Library. We’re delighted to be talking to Dr. Karin Zimmermann, Deputy Head of the Department of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books.

Heidelberg University Library has large collection of printed and manuscript recipe books. Can you give us an overview of some of the rare and unique items in your collection?

Heidelberg University Library (HUL) is the central library of Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany. The University was founded in 1386 and is the oldest University in Germany. In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, three libraries were part of the university. They consisted of the book collections of the liberal arts faculty, of the higher faculties – with medicine – and of the collegiate church (Holy Ghost Church). The core of the collections in the faculty libraries consisted mostly of the books left to the university by professors. In this way by 1396 the university managed to build up a collection of over 600 books. In the 16th century Elector Otto-Henry combined this library with the Electors Palatine’s private book collections creating the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ – the Palatine library. In 1556, the library consisted of about 6,400 titles, including 4,800 printed books, 500 parchment manuscripts and 600 paper manuscripts. The sack of Heidelberg during the Thirty Years’ War, in 1622, brought a temporary end to what was at the time most renowned and important collection of books in Germany. At the beginning of the 19th century, the German manuscripts were returned to HUL. However, the Latin and Greek manuscripts and all printed volumes still remain in the Vatican Library.

The main source of ‘old’ books, however, was the purchase of tens of thousands of volumes – about 450 manuscripts and thousands of printed books – from the library of the Cistercian Abbey Salem at the Lake Constance in 1826.

Today HUL holds about 3.12 million books and periodicals, about 495,000 non-book-media and about 6,800 manuscripts. Nearly 980,000 of its volumes are printed before 1900. The library counts 42,200 active users and about 1.6 million loans per year.

Most of the recipe books in the Heidelberg University Library are within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection. There is a longstanding and fascinating research and digitisation project centred on this collection, could you share some details with our readers?

In 1970, due to the outstanding importance of the Bibliotheca Palatina collection, the HUL began cataloguing the Latin manuscripts now in the Vatican Library in Rome. That project is financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), the largest independent research funding organisation in Germany. From 1996 until 2014, the 848 German manuscripts in Heidelberg were catalogued. With the help of third-party funds, this part of the library was digitized in the Digitization Department of HUL by different projects and made available on open access. Additionally, from 2012 onwards, a team from Heidelberg has worked to digitize onsite also the circa 2,030 Latin manuscripts in Rome. Every week we digitize at least 10 additional manuscripts! Find out more here.

Can you give us an idea of the scope of the recipe texts within the ‘Bibliotheca Palatina’ collection? How many are there? What kinds of knowledge are represented?

Let’s talk about the manuscripts, here we have to distinguish between Latin and German ones. Nearly all medical texts that had been used at the university to teach medicine were written in Latin. These 272 volumes transferred mostly ancient knowledge from authors like Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galenus, Avicenna or Averroes.

A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)
A text from Galenus for the treatment of glaucoma in a manuscript from 9th/10th century (HUL, Cod. Pal. lat. 1080, fol. 1v)

The German manuscripts of the Bibliotheca Palatina, the Codices Palatini germanici, consist mostly of the vernacular part of the library at the castle, that belonged to the Electors Palatine and their families. The character of a court library can be seen in the topics covered by the books. Most of the manuscripts, about one-third of the stock (ca 300), consist of medical and alchemical texts (http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/portal/med-hs/), reflecting the interest of some of the Electors Palatine who were particularly fascinated by medical prescriptions.

About 220 of these medical manuscripts date from the 16th century and nearly 75 originate before 1500. Approximately 50 of these manuscripts, written before 1500, transmit late medieval, to a small extent ancient Arabic medicine and tracts – that means ‘old’ texts. Another 20 of these older codices are alchemical texts. This kind of text usually consists of a plurality of recipes, practices or alternative instructions that are in a more or less fixed context of tradition, that is, they were to be preserved as a unit and therefore often passed on together (e.g. the ‘Arzneibuch’ [Book of Medicine] by Ortolf von Baierland).

The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
The so called ‘Speyrer Arzneibuch’ [Speyer Book of Medicine], the oldest German medical manuscript in HUL from 1321 (HUL, Cod. Pal. germ. 214, fol. 49r)
By far the most comprehensive group consists of about 220 handwritten collections of recipes with unknown authors. To give you an idea of the immense extent number of texts included in this group, I will give you some numbers. Extrapolated, there are approximately 193,000 recipes written down on about 40,000 sheets of parchment and paper.

Finally, for those of us who living afar, could you tell us a little about we might be able to consult your rich holdings both via digitization schemes and via virtual exhibitions?

You can find all digitized manuscripts – German and Latin ones – on the constantly updated website of the project. To search inside of the manuscript descriptions you can use the database ‘PalatinaSEARCH’ (only in German). The virtual exhibitions can be found on a special website. The catalogue of the Latin medical manuscripts is digitized as well as the descriptions of the German ones. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Karin @ Zimmermann@ub.uni-heidelberg.de.

Watch this space! In a later post, Karin will take a more detailed look at some highlights of the library and introduce to the fascinating group of collectors and compilers who created the recipe books within the Bibliotheca Palatina.